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There’s a lot of confusion over whether vaping is a healthier alternative to tobacco cigarettes. We examine the evidence. 

When Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik invented the e-cigarette in 2003, he hoped it would help him quit smoking – the habit that led to his father’s lung cancer diagnosis and eventual death. Fast forward almost two decades and it’s estimated there are now 35 million e-cigarette users globally.

It’s a number expected to grow rapidly, including in Australia. The 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found the proportion of people who had used e‑cigarettes rose from 8.8 per cent to 11.3 per cent between 2016 and 2019. Among people who’d tried e-cigarettes, frequency of use also increased, with more people using them at least monthly.

These days, fewer Australians smoke tobacco – just 12 per cent of adults smoked daily in 2019 compared to 13 per cent in 2016 and 25 per cent in 1991 – so it might seem like Hon was onto something. The trouble is there’s insufficient evidence to promote the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. Hon himself hasn’t managed to quit and now smokes both e-cigarettes and tobacco. 

Meanwhile, mounting evidence suggests the raft of hazardous substances found in e-cigarette liquids and the aerosol they produce pose serious health risks.

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